An article in Science Express reports, “Earthquake Experts Convicted of Manslaughter.” Seven experts tasked with giving advice ahead of a deadly earthquake that struck in 2009 have been found guilty of manslaughter by a judge in the central Italian town of L’Aquila. No, it’s not the Italian equivalent of April Fools Day. Respected scientists who failed to predict an earthquake — as if anyone could reliably accomplish that feat — face six years in jail because some people in Italy do not understand probability and uncertainty.
If upheld, the consequences could be devastating for scientists advising the public. In one stroke, this judge made sure no scientist is going to say anything of consequence about Italy. Picture Mount Vesuvius rumbling and steaming, an ominous bulge growing. You ask a volcanologist, “Is it going to erupt?” The likely answer (said while running away): “No comment!”
Why do I bring this up in a water blog? Anyone here do flood forecasting? It’s not that far fetched, given the public’s abysmal ignorance on probabilities. How many have heard something like, “Now that we’ve had the 100-year flood, we’re safe for another 100 years, right?”
I can understand people being upset about a tragic loss of life. Maybe it seemed easier to blame the elitist scientists than to crack down on those responsible for the building codes. In the Dark Ages we hunted for witches, as scapegoats for our bad luck. Are we going backwards?
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